This week we chat with Mary Long of Post Industrial Design in West Footscray. They’ll be participating in our upcoming FOOT IT in West Footscray by Bike Art Tour with Wynter Projects on 4 July (click here for details). Grab a cuppa and a comfy seat to have a read and find out about the wonderfully interesting peeps behind this philosophy: “We delight in all things quirky and left-of-field. We resist the notion of a throw away society. We rebel against the populist thought that good design is all about ‘straight lines’ . . . and YES we sometimes think minimalism can be boring. AND MOST IMPORTANTLY we think one should buy art because they love it and not because it matches the sofa.”
Can you please provide a brief overview of what your creative business?
We have a shop, Post Industrial Design in West Footscray . The shop showcases local designers and artists work along with my partner, Jos Van Hulsen’s work. My partner Jos is a sculptor/designer and makes all these wonderful creations out of discarded industrial objects. It is through Jos that I developed an interest in the arts and this in turn has led to my career change towards Arts management.
In addition to the work Jos has in the shop, he also does a lot of custom made work for private customers, Architects, Interior designers and landscape Architects. He also does styling and fit outs for cafe’s and restaurants.
We run a number of exhibitions and events here at the shop. All of the artists we have exhibited have had a special relationship with the area. We are interested in keeping art real and accessible to people. Artists we have shown include Sarah Watt, Warren Kirk, Baby Guerrilla, Jessie Dean and Jessie Deanne (Yup tis true . . . two artists with the same name) We have also hosted numerous group shows including Steamscape a Steampunk exhibition for Loreal Fashion Week and skateboard exhibitions as part of the State of Design Festivals . . . . just to name a few
Recently we teamed up with POD cafe who run an amazing cafe within Post Industrial Design. Although we are two separate businesses operating the one space, we are definitely a partnership in terms of how our businesses present to the public. We do a number of joint events together including bi monthly Pop-up Bars. The cafe has added a great element to the space. A lot of our customers come from across town, so it means now they can come check out the shop and have lunch or a coffee and cake. It makes it a real outing for people on the other side of town.
What has been your career pathway leading to this?
Originally my partner and I set up Post Industrial Design in Richmond back in 1995. We were young, idealistic and didn’t have a clue about business. Our business, despite our lack of business know-how, was a relative success.
It was such a different time to do business. It was pre GST , 1⁄2 of the economy still operated on cash, and commercial leases were cheap in comparison to todays rentals. This lack of rigidity allowed smaller, creative operations like ourselves to be slightly more experimental without huge outlays or risk. We did learn a lot in that time but we floundered along. Our relative success was more to do with right-place-right-time than strategy or nouse. We closed the shop not long after moving over to the West and operated out of our home studio with my partner doing custom make sculpture and design for the clientele we built up in Richmond . . . with lots of part time jobs in between.
There is a saying that all roads lead to Rome, and if I had to describe my personal career path, this statement definitely holds true. My work history included many jobs both menial and skilled . . . I even worked in a massage parlour for a number of years managing day shifts and working on reception. If I could manage a room full of ‘working girls’ I figured I could do anything. (This is no diss on working girls – they have my utmost respect and admiration) The point is this – that I would never imagine that the accumulation of all these experiences would lead to what I do now. All of my jobs have been invaluable to running a small business. Success in small business is all about multi skilling and the more variation you have in your work history I think the better off you are. This is most evident when I take on work experience students. For me I would much prefer a student with passion who has done a stint at Macca’s or the local supermarket above someone straight out of design school. People who have worked real life jobs are much better able to think on their feet and problem solve than that of their more educated counterpart. Oh dear I am on a rave . . . enough of that!
In terms of education I went back to school as a mature age student and studied Business majoring in Public Relations. This course also gave me invaluable skills and knowledge necessary to run my business. Again an education is all good and fine. It is applying it that becomes the tricky part.
We decided to launch back into retail in 2011, and set up Post Industrial Design in West Footscray. This was a time when ‘the retail recession’ was being splash all over the media. Bricks and mortar businesses was dead. There was a sentiment from consumers that service was poor or non-existent, and prices were inflated. Consumers felt ripped off and ignored. For me the forever optimist, would laugh and say to my partner “Well if we can survive in these times we are bound to flourish in the good times” For me this was an opportunity.
In the beginning what were the challenges in setting up your creative business? How did you overcome these challenges?
We had a few major challengers in setting up the business. Initially the biggest one was our location. We are one block down from the ‘main drag’ in West Footscray and getting word out that we were actually there was difficult. Many people thought we were mad when we set up here. West Footscray wasn’t ready for a design and art store. Who did we think we were – Yarraville??? We overcame this through hard work basically. We hosted a number of events which brought people into our space and worked hard on social media and our website. My background in PR did pay off somewhat. Our Exhibitions started getting attention in the Media and the word slowly started to spread.
The other main hurdle we had to overcome was I think initially people felt slightly intimidated by walking in. From the outside we did look very ‘arty’. The space was very minimal and for some this was daunting. Once they walked in they realised that we sell all manor of giftware ranging from gifts under $5 to artwork selling at $5000, but it was getting people through the door was the challenge. We started getting more stock in and people seemed to warm to a space full of things to look at. They could wander in and not feel so intimidated by a large minimal space.
I guess the other challenge I found was being someones boss! I felt extremely uncomfortable about this role . . . Wasn’t the boss the exploiter? The bastard? For me this was personally the hardest thing I had to overcome. The fear I had in telling others what to do. I quickly realised I needed to step up. I was not only doing a disservice to my business but also to my staff also. I knew in my head what needed doing and expected people to just read my mind and get on with it. This was unfair. Initially I found it hard to ask people to do things for me. I would end up sweeping the floor rather than asking someone else to do it for me. I think I have overcome my fear of being a boss, but I still feel very much that I am still learning as I go.
What do you love/ find rewarding about your current work? Is there a particular project that you’ve enjoyed?
The challenge in business is things are never static. Once one challenge is overcome another presents itself. This is what I love most about my work. It always stretches me and although there are plenty of menial jobs that need doing there are also more dynamic aspects which require creative thinking and problem solving.
Initially when we set up business, the driving force was love of art and objects of beauty. The business aspect, I guess was secondary – a component that needed to be addressed in order to achieve ‘the other’. I have surprised myself by loving the business aspect as much as anything. We did not have much capitol behind us when we started so we had to be creative how we could grow our brand, and look for alternative vehicles to promote our business rather than through traditional media channels, which were out of our budget. I am constantly excited about this aspect of what I do.
In terms of projects the one I enjoyed most was launching the Christmas windows last year. The installation was done by my partner Jos Van Hulsen and he created this magical wonderland that moved. Children and adults were transfixed. It gave me and my partner Jos such a buzz to drive past the shop at night and see a gaggle of adults and children with their faces pressed to the window . . . you can’t get much better than that.
Although I work ridiculous hours and find work family balance difficult I do pinch myself every day about how lucky I am to have found ‘my thing’. Four and a half years in and I still wake up with ideas at 3am in the morning. It is energising to still feel that excited about what you do.
What lessons have you learnt the hard way in terms of your work/ creative practice?
Ha! Everything in business is learnt the hard way. Thats how we learn isn’t it?
What tips can you provide for those wanting to start a creative business?
In fear of sounding like my parents . . . work hard for what you want. But more importantly be systematic and strategic in how you set up. Look for partnerships and synergies within other organisations for collaborations. Business is about strategic thinking but it is also about following your gut too. Trust in your instincts.
What/ who inspires you and why?
Heaps of people! I love people and am inspired by both public figures as well as just people I meet. In terms of public figures – at the moment I am a bit of a stalker of David Walsh. I love that he has come into the art world as an outsider and totally shaken up the art-world. He is a radical thinker and dynamic and unconventional in how he presents his space and his views.
What future projects are you excited about?
We have a few exciting things coming up. We are showing a young artist Michel Le Tellier who is a young first time exhibitor. His work is amazing it will all be done on surf boards which he shapes by hand himself. His show is in August. We also host a number of pop-up bars throughout the year.
I am super excited about this years Christmas window. Jos is already in the process of making it and I think it is going to blow people away!
Where can we find out more about you online? Please provide links.
If you would like to hear more and get behind the scenes at Post Industrial Design please come along to our FOOT IT Art Tour with Wynter Projects: CLICK HERE.